Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus. If you get infected, you can develop acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term) form of the disease. The incubation period (the time from being infected to first symptoms showing) of hepatitis B is from 30 to 180 days. This makes it dangerous because you may infect other people unknowingly.

The acute form of hepatitis B has symptoms that last several weeks and include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, feeling exhausted, nausea, vomiting and tummy ache. In severe cases, acute hepatitis B can lead to liver failure, which may be fatal.

The chronic form of hepatitis B may cause gradually worsening liver disease and complications such as cirrhosis (severe scarring of the liver) and liver cancer. These conditions are serious and can be fatal.

If you get infected with the hepatitis B virus as an adult, you’ll most likely develop the acute form of the disease (less than 5 per cent of cases develop into the chronic form), however, infection in babies and young children results in chronic hepatitis in about 95 per cent of cases. 

There is no specific treatment for acute hepatitis B. The main recommendations are to prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of liquids and good nutrition to aid recovery. A vegan diet provides plenty of essential as well as bonus nutrients that will help you regain good health.

Chronic hepatitis B can be treated with medicines such as tenofovir or entecavir. Treatment can slow the progress of cirrhosis, reduce the risk of liver cancer and increase the chances of long-term survival. However, once the treatment is started, it must continue for life.

The hepatitis B virus can survive in the environment for at least a week, so good personal hygiene is important to prevent infection.

In areas where hepatitis B is common, the virus is usually passed from mother to child at birth or through person-to-person transmission, particularly between children under five. Another infection route is through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person, eg during sex, using unsafe needles for injections, tattooing or piercing.Hepatitis B can be prevented with a vaccine. In high-risk areas, the vaccine is usually given soon after birth and it offers an almost complete protection against the virus. Of course, you can also get vaccinated as a teenager or adult.